“I saw things that we hadn’t done all season, it was really cool to watch”
By Than Acuff
The Crested Butte Titans girls closed out the 2023 season with a win over Windsor Charter Academy in the first round of the 2A state tournament before falling to the top seed, Skyview Academy, on Saturday, May 13 bringing their season to an end.
The season was rife with hurdles as a big winter left the team without grass to train on throughout most of the season and injuries hit them at the most inopportune times.
Regardless, things were starting to click for the Titans as they prepared for the post season. For starters, the upper classmen provided the necessary core for success bringing a host of past state tournament experience to the field while the underclassmen, despite being inexperienced with high school post season play, added some fuel to the fire on the field and on the scoreboard during the regular season.
“Ellie O’Neal was a big support to the younger girls telling them we’ve been here and we can do this,” says coach Heather Culley.
The one setback came in net as starting senior captain and goalie Mara Pennie suffered a season-ending injury and backup goalie Bryce Haskel suffered a similar fate shortly thereafter.
“That was a big bummer and not the way I wanted to end my senior season,” says Pennie.
The two injuries forced the coaches to look to junior Nicola Roberts to take over in goal at the end of the season and into the post season. But, with everyone else healthy, the team was prepared for the challenge ahead.
“The team was looking good and Nicola was looking good and was ready,” says Culley.
“Overall, I thought we looked really strong,” adds Pennie. “At the start of the season the focus was on just a couple of players but throughout the season and going into the post season I recognized that each player brought so much to the team.”
Their first hurdle would be Windsor Charter Academy, a relative unknown to the Titans team.
“We knew they had a left back that liked to push up, but we really didn’t know what they were like,” says Culley.
Paced by senior leaders and unflinching underclassmen, Crested Butte took control of the match and freshman Nora Thomes scored for a 1-0 Titans’ lead. Senior India Nornes tacked on a second goal for the Titans, and they looked in control taking a 2-0 lead into halftime.
“We had quite a few opportunities and a majority of the game was played on Windsor’s half,” says Culley. “We didn’t want to change anything.”
The second half played out much like the first as freshman Molly Miller scored for a 3-0 lead and freshman Brie Polster closed it out with a fourth Titans’ goal for the 4-0 win.
“I saw things that we hadn’t done all season, it was really cool to watch,” says Pennie.
“It helped their confidence that they could do it and they were excited,” adds Culley.
Crested Butte then turned its attention to Skyview Academy. Skyview Academy finished the regular season 15-0 racking up 95 goals in the process, 54 of which came from two players, while giving up a mere three goals the entire time and cruised past their first-round opponent 6-0.
“They play their game around their two players in the middle, so we focused on shutting them down faster and not giving them any space,” explains Culley.
Skyview Academy struck first to go up 1-0 but the Titans plan was working until the team took another massive hit 15 minutes into the match when starting junior center midfielder Leigh Harpel was injured forcing her from the game.
“For the most part we were controlling them in the middle and then Leigh went down,” says Culley.
The Titans held Skyview Academy to that one lone goal the remainder of the first half and continued to battle despite missing Harpel in the middle.
“I was nervous the team was going to be shaken but there was no quit,” says Pennie.
“We just stuck to our game plan, but it was mentally brutal for the girls to see that happen to a teammate,” says Culley. “But they stepped it up and played hard. We were getting into their half, we just couldn’t get past their defense to get shots.”
A misplay on a Skyview Academy corner kick put the Titans down 2-0 and Skyview Academy held on to end the Titans’ season.
“I think those were two of the best games we played all season,” says Pennie.
Given the lack of fields to practice on, the injuries and an assortment of other hurdles throughout the season, Culley believes the season was still a success as the Titans finished 10-7 overall and won their league title with a record of 5-1.
“I would say the season was good,” says Culley. “We did what we could with what we were given.”
“Despite all of the challenges, we faced them and worked through them together,” says Pennie. “It was different than any other season I had. Everything was out of our control. We still found ways to connect as a team and as friends and that shows how strong as a team we were.”
The Titans will lose 10 seniors to graduation, six of whom were varsity starters, but with the freshmen already making an impact this year, a core of returning starters and a big freshmen class coming in next year, they look to be back in the mix once again next season.